Associate Professor Paul Wrigley from the the University of Sydney, Professor Philip Siddall from Hammond Care and myself have found surviving sensory nerve connections in areas of no sensation in half of people living with complete thoracic spinal cord injuries.
Our breakthrough study used cutting edge functional MRI (fMRI) technology to record neural response to touch. The brain light up to touch shows, despite complete injury of the thoracic spine, somatosensory pathways have been preserved. What is fascinating is though the patients did not ‘feel’ the big toe stimulation, we were able to detect a significant signal in the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, the thalamus and the cerebellum.
This means, despite previously believing the communication to the brain had been severed in the injury, messages are still being received by the brain.
The results of our study, which is part of a decade long collaboration between us, were published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. Our findings open new avenues for future research and treatment opportunities.
It is exciting to find a way to clearly show when sensory pathways are intact. This opens up new opportunities to identify those people living with a spinal cord injury that are more likely to benefit from treatments aimed at improving sensation and movement.